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Love-marriage scourge label on riot accused

Mumbai, Dec. 28: At parents’ bidding, girls are being kidnapped, abused and forced to remarry for “straying” from their community. Not in any remote village, but in the heart of Mumbai, according to a petition.

Last Thursday, Bombay High Court issued notices to the parents of four girls from the Gujarati Patel community, who had secretly married outside their community.

Soon after marriage, the parents allegedly arranged for the girls to be forcibly taken to the Naroda locality in Ahmedabad, where they live in an environment of physical and mental abuse, till they promise to marry a Patel.

The man behind this is allegedly the mastermind behind the Naroda-Patiya massacre during the Gujarat riots ' Babu Bajrangi. Eighty-three people were killed in Naroda.

Bajrangi and his organisation, Navchetan Sangathan, have taken it on themselves to protect the “honour” of their community, for a fee.

Early this month, four young men ' two from Ghatkopar in central Mumbai ' moved a petition in the high court, alleging their wives, all from the Patel community, were kidnapped by Bajrangi’s men and taken forcibly to Ahmedabad.

They said Bajrangi, a Patel who spearheads a movement to keep his community pure by not letting girls marry into another caste or community, charges parents lakhs to take their daughters “into his care”.

The court has also sent notices to police forces in Gujarat and Maharashtra, to whom the men have repeatedly turned to. Responses have to be filed by January 23.

Freelance graphic designer Ajay Nikam, a Maharashtrian, was in love with his neighbour Geeta, a Patel. They lived in Ghatkopar. They knew the opposition they would face from her family and married in secret in November 2003. They stayed in their respective homes for a few months, but then she ran away and came to live with him. Then their nightmare began.

Ajay said on November 30, 2004, Geeta’s mother called her home for a visit to the doctor, but she did not come back. “That night she was directly taken to Ahmedabad,” he said.

As he looked for her everywhere, he started to get calls from Ahmedabad.

He realised she was trying to call him. Ajay traced the number to an STD booth and found out the address. It was a Naroda locality. He went there and found that the entire locality was under the “protection” of Bajrangi.

He also found out that Geeta, along with several other girls, were being detained at BF 6, Bhagyodaya Society, behind Krishna Talkies.

As he wandered in the area, he was picked up by Bajrangi himself. He was beaten up and forced to sign papers consenting to a divorce. He came back to Mumbai and for a year ran from police to court. But there was no ray of hope.

He met his wife briefly when Mumbai police presented her in a court here. “She lives with about 10 other girls in the Naroda house and all are tortured severely,” Ajay said.

“I have written to the police commissioner, the chief justice and the home secretary in Gujarat, naming Bajrangi, but there has been no response. “I have been told that Bajrangi has ‘rescued’ 560 other Patel girls before and I am the 561st case.”

The story of 22-year-old Raju Medige, Ajay’s friend from Ghatkopar, is eerily similar. So are those of Abhijit Sonavane from Pune and Prashant Samudre from Sangli, who joined hands when they heard Ajay and Raju had sought Teesta Setalvad’s help. The activist has taken up the case on behalf of the NGO, Citizens for Justice and Peace.

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